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Alumna Spotlight: Judge Angelica "Kiki" Zayas


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In this month’s Girl Scout Alumna Spotlight, we sat down with Girl Scout Alumna and Miami Dade Circuit Family Judge Angelica “Kiki” Zayas to talk about her experience in Girl Scouts.

Kiki was born and raised in Miami and grew up in the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida council where her experiences ignited her passion for giving back in both her personal and professional lives. Kiki earned a B.A., cum laude, from the University of Miami in 1986 and her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Miami in 1989. She was a Board Certified Criminal Appellate Lawyer for 20 years.

She began her legal career with the State of Florida Department of Legal Affairs, Office of the Attorney General in 1989. In 1996, Kiki joined the Legal Division of the Office of the State Attorney of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. She was appointed to the Circuit Court on December 9, 2011, by Governor Rick Scott and was elected without opposition in 2014. She currently serves in the Juvenile Delinquency Division of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court.

Q: How long were you a Girl Scout (and at what level did you start?)

A: I started as a Pixie (now known as tagalongs) when my sister was a Brownie and my mother was a Brownie Leader. At that time, Brownies started in second grade and were not allowed to camp. You wanted to stick around and be a junior because you got to go camping. Both my sister and I went all the way through Girl Scouts until we graduated from High School.

Q: What is your favorite Girl Scout memory?

A. This is a really hard question because I’ve had the opportunity to do some really amazing things as a Girl Scout, as a Girl Scout Leader and as a Girl Scout volunteer. Some memories that stand out are:

As an adult I took a group twice to the Chalet in Switzerland.  I also took a group of Girl Scouts to Pax Lodge - we travelled through France and ended up at the chalet.

As a Girl Scout leader, one of the most significant things that happened to me is one of our girls from a recently immigrated family asked me to be her Godmother.  It was significant because SHE chose me to be her godparent.

When the Centennial Camporee rolled around, there was a lot going on with the council so I put together a committee and put it together. There was this little girl, who was tiny and had a hard time keeping up so I had her with me to make sure she could keep up. We had the color guard behind us and the rest of the parade.

At one point we were walking and we would stop to make sure there were no gaps. She looked back and was like, “wow that’s amazing.” I asked, “Amazing, what’s so amazing?” “All those Girl Scouts celebrating the Girl Scout birthday.”

She was just so awestruck by the sisterhood that we are. And I thought, “if I’ve accomplished nothing else, that one moment made everything because she was so amazed by the power of the sisterhood.”

On my 50th birthday, my friends in the Alumnae Association had a “Get Kiki to Savannah” initiative. I’d been to the chalet, but never to the birthplace. They organized the trip and we stayed at a Home Away that was owned by a relative of Juliette Gordon Low. I had made friends in Girl Scouts that cared enough about me that they went to Savannah for my birthday.  

As a child, my sister and I spent a lot of time in Girl Scouts and we have a lot of shared memories. We are friends, not just siblings, in large part because of our shared experiences in the Girl Scout program.

One year I had 11 girls earn their Silver Award and one earned the Gold Award. This was a large troop and very bonded. They needed uniforms, but the cost of uniforms was too much for many of the girls, so we had to make the uniforms. My mother, sister and I sat in the kitchen and made uniforms for our girls so they had something to wear to the awards ceremony.

Q: Can you tell me about a moment in your career or a time in your life that you are proud of, and how your experience in Girl Scouts helped you achieve that goal?

A: We are, as individuals, a sum of our parts. My Girl Scouting experiences are so woven into the fabric of who I am and my approach and how I problem solve that I can’t point to just one experience.  Girl Scouts builds a confidence and that helps.

I’m not terribly tall - I’m petite and youthful looking, and when you are petite and youthful looking nobody takes you seriously. Girl Scouts teaches you about confidence, self-reliance and teamwork. These things help you in your professional life when people don’t take you seriously.

Years ago, when I was an unknown lawyer, I would have people come up to me and say “I didn’t expect much from you until you began speaking. And then your oral argument blew me away.”

Things like camping, canoeing, hiking, sleeping away help you build the confidence and strength to enter the workforce.  There was nobody to put up our tents for us, to carry our boats, to get through the rough waters. We had to do that. We, the girls.

Q: Can you tell me about a time where your experience in Girl Scouts helped you overcome adversity?

A: When I first started working, we would often work late because we had to get something postmarked in the mail by midnight. We had a copy machine and a postage machine in the office, and sometimes it would break and the staff members who fixed it would have left for the day. So I would fix the postage machine or the copy machine when it was broken, because I needed it done.

Girl Scouts is a great equalizer. If you need to put up a tent then it doesn’t matter how much you have and don’t have. It matters that you have the skills to pitch the tent.  

I’ve found that Girl Scouts is a patchwork of all the great experiences that creates who you are. I’ve been very lucky in my Scouting experiences

Q: If you could give girls today one piece of advice, what would that be?

A: Live a purposeful life. Live life, enjoy life but give back and pay it forward.  It comes back to making the world a better place. I think that making the world a better place is why I am in government services. I was in private practice for a brief period and I didn’t like it because I didn’t think I was making a difference.

Savor today, truly experience the experiences today. But keep and eye on the future and make sure you are doing something purposeful. But make sure you aren’t so goal oriented that you don’t enjoy today.

Q: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?

A: I have mentored many young scouts throughout the years and I get invited to life events - weddings, baby showers, christenings, and that means a lot. That means I’ve made an impact, I’ve influenced them in little ways. My greatest accomplishments are my Godchildren and my nephews. That they call me randomly and send me texts, that they asked me to be a confirmation sponsor or a Godparent.

If you’ve affected the life of a child, that’s amazing and that’s important.

Q: What is your favorite Girl Scout Cookie?

A: When I was a child it had to be Thin Mints in the freezer. But then came the Samoas and between Samoas and Thin Mints, I don’t know. Then some days you just want a Trefoil. There’s no such thing as a bad Girl Scout cookie.

 

More about Kiki’s professional career:

 

Kiki has served on the Executive Council of the Criminal Law Section since 2009. She serves on the Florida Supreme Court Mediator Qualifications Board – Southern Division, has been an instructor at the Conference of Circuit Court Judges, is a member of the Government Lawyer Section, and the Appellate Practice and Advocacy Section. Kiki is currently Co-Chair of the Juvenile Delinquency Committee of the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges.

Kiki has served on the Florida Supreme Court Criminal Court Steering Committee Subcommittee on Post Conviction Relief, assisting in the revision of Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850, has served on the Florida Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases (2003 – 2009) and the Florida Bar Criminal Procedures Rules Committee (2004 – 2009; Subcommittee Chair 2007-2008; Vice-Chair 2008-2009), and served as a Board Member of the Third District Court Historical Society.